What is a pre-accelerator?

Think of it as a support incubator to help hatch your startup ideas

The University of Cincinnati’s Venture Lab is just that — a mentor-based entrepreneurial support ecosystem designed to provide guidance, support and structure to help early-stage startups move from idea to prototype stage.

The goal of a pre-accelerator is to provide intensive guidance, mentorship and resources for budding entrepreneurs so they can establish a strong foundation for growth and attract customers and investors.

Pre-accelerators vs. accelerators: What’s the difference?

While incubators and accelerators take on startups at various stages of formulation and implements, pre-accelerators focus on hatching ideas at the concept to minimal viable product (MVP) stages.

“It can be confusing — incubators, pre-accelerators, accelerators,” said Charles Matthews, professor of entrepreneurship and strategy in UC’s Carl H. Lindner College of Business. “The services of each can often overlap, but it is the pre-accelerator that is the most attractive to entrepreneurs in the ideation/conceptualization/formulation stages. This is especially so for ideas that have potential to scale but are still exploring what it will take to do so.”

Just like many business executives consider great parents to be the original venture capitalists — seeing the potential in their children before the world does — pre-accelerators nurture a similar potential in promising business ideas and provide a structured program that connects entrepreneurs with the necessary resources, such as industry experts, mentors, investors and educational resources.

Venturing out

Similar to resourceful parents, innovative pre-accelerators, such as the UC Venture Lab, also may offer access to co-working spaces, networking events and presentation opportunities. One advantage of a pre-accelerator connected with a university such as the UC Venture Lab is connecting the entrepreneur with the right professional and academic guidance to nurture the attributes that suggest success, while smoothing out some of the flaws.

State-of-the-art pre-accelerators, like great parents, connect their budding entrepreneurs with the needed resources such as financial, mentoring, sales and more, to help build on those innovative potentials.

Right steps

One thing all entrepreneurs have in common is enthusiasm and the need for startup capital.

“But before you start looking for capital, first explore exactly how valuable your service or product will be to your customers,” Matthews said. 

Four ways pre-accelerators help 

  • Customer discovery is the purpose of identifying and interviewing target users and buyers.
  • Market research is the process of collecting and analyzing data related to a particular business in the marketplace.
  • Storytelling skills involve understanding the needs and interests of a target audience, as well as being able to communicate a message clearly and concisely.
  • Networking with other entrepreneurs, mentors and technical experts.

To help jumpstart your journey, UC’s Venture Lab pre-accelerator program offers an eight-week program that explores the commercial potential of your product or service concept by answering questions such as: 

  • What problem is your product really solving? 
  • Who is your actual customer? 
  • Is there space in the market? 

Along the way, the lab provides access to industry and market knowledge, entrepreneurs-in-residence mentors, networks and resources to examine the market potential of your concept and take it to the next level.

“Good candidates for our program are new entrepreneurs excited about their novel, scalable business concept, and they want to see if it has legs but aren’t sure where to start,” said Elizabeth Wetzel, program manager for UC’s Office of Innovation. 

“The UC Venture Lab pre-accelerator helps focus entrepreneurs’ attention on the most important analysis first, to help target the right problem, customer and market. We help them sharpen their skills to talk about their ideas in a way that connects with the right audiences. Then we help connect them to resources they need to push their idea toward startup.”

Featured image at top: People gathered for a UC Venture Lab graduation. Photo/Ravenna Rutledge/UC Marketing + Brand

Help for entrepreneurs

Through the 1819 Innovation Hub — UC’s front door to business — the University of Cincinnati connects corporations, small businesses and startup companies to a variety of business development services. Learn how to start, run and grow your business; build prototypes; test new business ideas and more.

Related Stories


UC’s Center for Entrepreneurship tailors big solutions for small businesses

November 21, 2023

At the epicenter of the UC Entrepreneurial Ecosystem hub is the Small Business Institute (SBI) program, nestled within UC’s Carl H. Lindner College of Business (LCoB). As a founding member of the SBI and the Small Business Institute Directors’ Association, UC helps bridge the gap between aspiring entrepreneurs and businesses eager to boost their success.


From lab to legacy inside UC’s 1819 Innovation Hub

December 12, 2023

In the vibrant corridors of the University of Cincinnati, pioneering research extends beyond the confines of laboratories — it launches revolutionary ideas poised to reshape the world. The key to safeguarding these innovations lies in the swift and savvy journey through the 1819 Innovation Hub’s technology transfer and patent licensing process, a vital approach for both faculty and the university.


6 UC business development services every aspiring entrepreneur needs

June 14, 2023

Want to launch a winning business right here in Cincinnati? Thanks to the services available through the University of Cincinnati’s 1819 Innovation Hub, you don’t have to do it alone. As the front door to UC, the hub connects small business owners, entrepreneurs and innovators to services that will help turn your venture into the next big thing.